Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 22:32 | SYDNEY
Monday 20 Aug 2018 | 22:32 | SYDNEY

What drives Iranian nuclear negotiating?

29 May 2008 12:45

A former Western diplomat based in Tehran writes in with this contribution.

The first thing to strike you when you arrive in Tehran is the traffic — sometimes literally. Even seasoned travellers are shocked at the outrageous moves Iranians pull when behind the wheel. Some cars travel the wrong way down expressways. Some cars travel the right way up expressways, but in reverse. Some cars eschew the expressways, and drive on footpaths. Pedestrians wander across the carnage without looking, missing cars by millimetres (usually). It is foolish. It is frustrating. It is frightening.

These words might just as well be applied to Iran’s negotiating on the nuclear issue. The similarities between the two are uncanny. Have the Iranians learnt something from their unruly driving? It is possible to identify some principles in common:

Principle 1: Beat yourself into a corner
Driving — Always join roads at full speed without looking. Other drivers will see that they are going to have to do all the stopping.
Nuclear negotiating — Build up your nuclear program into a core issue of national pride, to the extent that you simply can’t back down. Then tell your interlocuters that what they are asking of you is domestically unpalatable.

Principle 2: Wear them down
Driving — When you drive the wrong way down a one-way street, and meet someone coming the other way, turn your engine off and start eating lunch. Eventually they will reverse.
Nuclear negotiating — Take extended periods to 'review' new proposals. Hand out ambiguous promises of new cooperation. Your nuclear program has been the flavour of the month for a while. It won’t be forever.

Principle 3: Divide and conquer
Driving — Point out to another driver that someone is slyly trying to take their parking place. While they fight it out, you can take the park.
Nuclear negotiating — Play off the Russians and Chinese against the other members of the UN Security Council.

Principle 4: Create facts on the ground
Driving — Never pass up an opportunity to nudge forward a few centimetres to prevent other cars joining the road.
Nuclear negotiating — Continually advance your nuclear program, in small increments if necessary. Keep installing new centrifuges, whether they work or not.

Principle 5: Look like a lunatic
Driving — Drive the most beat-up car on the road, and drive it erratically. People will get out of your way.
Nuclear negotiating — Find a president like Ahmadinejad. He will do the rest.

Miscalculations on Iran’s roads can have catastrophic consequences. Let’s hope the regime bears that in mind when playing hardball on the nuclear issue.